Excerpt

“As for myself, I was dressed as a shepherdess in white”

We were already quite far along in the Carnival season without having had the least bit of fun or entertainment, which made me miss France a great deal. The Sunday before Mardi Gras, upon returning from hunting, where I had gone to try and dissipate my boredom, I found a friend waiting for me in order to invite me to a supper he was giving for a few people. He told me that I would have all the diversions there that one could partake of in the city. Indeed, that very evening, I began to savor the first pleasures in the colony, where I had already been for a few months. We spent not only an evening but the whole night, too, singing and dancing. When I returned home, I was certain that those would be the last pleasures I would partake of during the Carnival season, since it was already quite near the end, but, no matter the sadness one feels, it seems that those days are dedicated to pleasures and to having fun. The next day, which was Lundi Gras, I went to the office, where I found my associates, who were bored to death. I proposed to them that we form a party of maskers and go to Bayou Saint John, where I knew that a lady friend of my friends was marrying off one of her daughters.[1] They accepted, but the difficulty of finding appropriate clothes made us just talk about it. However, since I myself was desirous of finding out how people would have fun at this wedding party, I proposed this excursion for a second time, that evening at supper. But, upon seeing that no one wanted to come along, I got up from the table and said that I was going to find some others who would go, and I left.

I was, in fact, in a house where I did not delay in assembling a party, composed of my landlord and his wife, who gave me something to wear. When we were ready and just about to leave, we saw someone with a violin come in, and I engaged him to come with us. I was beginning to feel very pleased about my party, when, by another stroke of luck, someone with an oboe, who was looking for the violin, came in where we were, to take the violin player away with him, but it happened the other way around, for, instead of both of them leaving, they stayed. I had them play while waiting for us to get ready to leave. The gentlemen I had left at the table, and who had not left the house, came quickly upon hearing the instruments. But, since we had our faces masked, it was impossible for them to recognize us until we took them off. This made them want to mask, too, so that we ended up with eleven in our party. Some were in red clothing, as Amazons, others in clothes trimmed with braid, others as women. As for myself, I was dressed as a shepherdess in white. I had a corset of white dimity, a muslin skirt, a large pannier, right down to the chemise, along with plenty of beauty marks too.[2] I had my husband, who was the Marquis de Carnival; he had a suit trimmed with gold braid on all the seams. Our postilion went in front,[3] accompanied by eight actual Negro slaves, who each carried a flambeau to light our way.[4] It was nine in the evening when we left.

When we had gone a distance of two musket shots into the woods, our company was soon separated at the sight of four bears of a frightful size, which our postilion, passing close by them without even seeing them, had woken by snapping his whip. These animals, at the light of the flambeaux, went running, just like we did from the fear we felt, without knowing where we were going or what we were doing. Nonetheless, after our first movements, they went away, and we continued on our way, laughing about the little comedy we had just seen, which had really given us a fright.

When we got to the bayou, we sent a slave to go find out what was going on, namely, if people were dancing and what they were doing. During this time, we prepared ourselves, and upon returning the slave told us that they had just gotten up from the table and they were dancing. Right away, our instruments began playing, the postilion started cracking his whip, and we walked toward the house where the wedding celebration was taking place.

The whole gathering seemed very satisfied with our visit, and no sooner had we entered than they made us all dance. Afterward, in order for us to take some refreshments, they asked us in earnest to take off our masks. Until then, we had not been recognized, except for our postilion, because of his height. After we had been asked for a bit, we took off our masks. They recognized the other people almost immediately, because they were better known and had been in the country longer than I.[5] What also made it hard for people to recognize me was that I had shaved very closely that evening and had a number of beauty marks on my face, and even on my breasts, which I had plumped up. I was also the one out of all my group who was dressed up the most coquettishly. Thus I had the pleasure of gaining victory over my comrades, and, no matter that I was unmasked, my admirers were unable to resolve themselves to extinguishing their fires, which were lit very hotly, even though in such a short time. In fact, unless you looked at me very closely, you could not tell that I was a boy.

 

 

 



[1] Having spent much of his life in and near Paris, Caillot would have participated in Carnival events at home, and he may even have been a member of one of the many informal bands of masked and costumed young men who took to the Paris streets each year. The following description of Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) masking and revelry constitutes the earliest documented account of Carnival being celebrated in Louisiana. The wedding Caillot proposed to attend at the Bayou Saint John home of Widow Antoinette Fourier de Villemont Rivard was that of François Antoine Rivard and his fifteen-year-old stepsister, Jeanne Antoinette Mirebaize de Villemont. Marriage of Antoine Rivard and Jeanne Antoinette de Villemont, 20 February 1730, SLC M1, 189.

[2]As Caillot’s costuming choice makes clear, Carnival revelers of both sexes have long displayed a penchant for cross-dressing, a tradition still embraced by modern-day celebrants.

[3] A postilion is the front rider who goes in advance of the carriage or other horsemen as a guide. In this case, the “postilion” may simply have walked in advance of the maskers, who may have been traveling on foot.

[4] Flambeaux are torches that were used to light paths before the advent of gas lights or electricity. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, flambeaux were used to light Carnival parades. This practice persists in some modern nighttime Carnival parades, though the traditional wax-wicked torches have mostly been replaced with those lit by portable oil, kerosene, or propane torches.

[5] By February 1730, Caillot had been in Louisiana only seven months.